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Examining HOS Regulations in a Driver Fatigue Case

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A 1995 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study determined that driver fatigue is a contributing factor in as many as 30-40 percent of all heavy truck crashes. An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) survey in 1992 showed that almost 75 percent of drivers polled had violated hours of service regulations. Such evidence can prove critical in a personal injury lawsuit that involves a truck driving accident.

FMCSA Sets the Guidelines

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) created hours-of-service (HOS) rules in an effort to curb driver fatigue and therefore reduce the number of injuries and deaths that occur every year as a result of tired truck drivers.

According to studies completed in 2011 by the FMCSA, after six hours of driving, the odds that a truck driver will be in a crash go up, and continue to go up every hour after that. Yet regulations cap the hours of service requirement at 11.

After this finding, the FMCSA made some adjustments. Their research showed that a driving break, during which a driver either slept or went off-duty, reduced the risk of a crash by 32 percent with one break, and 51 percent with two. Thus, on July 1, 2013, new regulations will go into place that require drivers to take rest breaks if more than eight hours have passed since the last off-duty period of 30 minutes or more.

Plaintiff Attorneys Must Understand HOS Rules

Despite the regulations, drivers are paid by the mile, and are pressed to meet tight delivery schedules, which further encourages them to push the limits. In a truck driving accident lawsuit, plaintiff attorneys need to be aware of HOS regulations to present the strongest case possible for their clients. A basic understanding includes the following:

  • Driving limit: With few exceptions, drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) cannot drive more than 11 hours a day (now with the required breaks) following 10 consecutive hours off, and may not drive and work for more than 14 hours a day.
  • Weekly limit: Drivers may not be "on-duty" (combined "at work" and driving time) more than 60 hours every seven days, or 70 hours every eight days. Once this limit is reached, the driver can "reset" after taking 34 consecutive hours off.
  • Logs: Drivers are required to keep daily logs of what they’ve done in each 24-hour period. These logs are to be sent to the employer and kept for six months.

In addition, trucking companies are required to make sure their employees meet safety standards, comply with the HOS rules, and keep correct log books.

Recent Changes

In addition to the newly required breaks after eight hours on-duty, revised HOS rules also changed the following:

  • Reset: The 34-hour reset can be used only once per week, and the break must include at least two periods between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.
  • On-duty time: Whereas resting in a parked CMV used to qualify as on-duty time, under new rules, such resting time is now considered off-duty time. Loading and unloading times, however, are still considered working hours.
  • Waiting times: Under the new rules, waiting times do not have to be included when calculating driving times.

Gathering Evidence in a Truck Driving Lawsuit

When presenting a truck-driving lawsuit, plaintiff attorneys need solid evidence that shows driver fatigue. If drivers frequently "cheat" on logbooks, however, where can this evidence be found?

Other options include data from black box trip recorders, electronic vehicle management systems, or global positioning devices. Shipping documents, fuel receipts, company dispatch records, scale weight receipts, and toll road receipts can also provide additional evidence. An expert who can cross-reference the information in the log with mileage calculations, as well as time and date stamps from weigh stations, might also prove helpful.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, 4,000 people are killed and 100,000 more injured in truck crashes every year. Critics claim the current HOS rules are still not strict enough to prevent driver fatigue. Regardless of the rules, attorneys can use them to prepare a strong case for victims of truck accidents.